Vivian Shipley





It’s all about scale, about keeping perspective

invented in the 1480’s by Filippo Brunelleschi,


the Florentine architect. Unrolling blueprints

my father drew for this house he built himself,


for the home I now must sell, I remind myself

of the earthquake in China’s Sichuan Province,


the cyclone in Myanmar. I still need to fortify myself

with words of Michael Kimmelman, chief art critic


for The New York Times, about how to represent

three dimensions in two: Perspective works


by having a vanishing point, or single spot at

which all parallel lines going from near to far


theoretically converge, the effect of which creates

an illusion of depth. Daddy is dead and I have


had nothing tangible to keep me connected to him

until I ferret out these architectural plans. I can


picture his fingers rolling and unrolling this paper,

but not touching my face or stroking my cheek.


I do remember my father’s hands, their grace,

long nails he’d clean and cut with a pocket knife.


Surely, there were kisses, a good old fashioned

bear hug at our Bluegrass Airport good byes.


He never wrote me a letter, sent one Valentine which

I still have. Insatiable as I am for mementos of his love,


is it possible that these technical drawings will help

me understand what kind of man he was? Unlike me,


Daddy valued silence, never was one to talk much

and it’s no surprise that in blueprints for his house,


there are specifications for pegs to cover the screws


in the hardwood for floors and stairs that do not creak.


It is not what’s revealed but structure he concealed,

buried in the interior that will matter in the long run.


My father was a briar hopper, a label guys from Ohio

used to taunt teenage country boys from Kentucky.


The men told jokes about having to yell green side up

to the hillbillies they had hired to lay sod because


corseted by poverty, my father and his cousins

would work cheap, work long. Now, I understand


why Daddy did not appreciate my sense of humor

when I called out in the elevator filled with old men


and women strapped into wheelchairs at Uncle Paul’s

convalescent home, Going down. Working for men


who did not know what it was like to be wrong,

my father learned to wash his face of need or an edge.


Unlike his bosses in Ohio, will the house’s new owners

value the strength, the integrity of top quality lumber


that can’t be seen or proved except by tearing apart

the walls? No lines will web the front porch’s planter


with bricks that layer down into a basement that is

built of cement block threaded in steel rods. A garage


and back porch with columns of concrete to their bases

will never crack and pull away from the house walls.


These blueprints, the lesson plan for what Daddy tried

to teach me, show how complex simple surfaces can be.


It’s not what is visible but what is invisible like love,

like faith that creates depth, a foundation that will last.


Did my father closet these blueprints so we’d converge

to create an intersection where I can jumpstart my heart?




from All of Your Messages Have Been Erased © 2010




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